How new hobbies help ease the stress of difficult times

Lockdown gave people the impetus and space to improve their physical and mental wellbeing

Majella O’Dea from Athenry: “Gardening is totally absorbing, and I regularly lose track of time. I love trying to grow different plants.”

Majella O’Dea from Athenry: “Gardening is totally absorbing, and I regularly lose track of time. I love trying to grow different plants.”

 

There is no getting away from the fact that, for many people, the past few months have been very stressful indeed. But while some have learned how to deal with the uncertainty and angst each new challenge brought, others have taken up a relaxing hobby which has been hugely beneficial for their mental health.

Having started the #100daysofwalking challenge on New Year’s Day, I had already begun a healthy habit and once the crisis hit and we were all confined to base, I continued getting out for my daily walk (and still do) posting pictures for others in the virtual walking group using the tag #walkingthroughthecrisis.

From my own experience and feedback from others, it seems that we have all found the routine to be hugely rewarding on both a physical and mental level.

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell says this is typical of many of the relaxing hobbies people developed over the past few months.

“During quarantine many of us found new and interesting things to do,” he says. “Some people sought a distraction from the virus and all the sad news, others fought boredom and others began to try out things they long wished they had the time to do. Either way, we tapped into a normal human desire to do, to create and to seek novelty.

“New activities bring about energy and engagement as some require a level of concentration simply because we are new to it – whether it is cooking, gardening, sewing, yoga or DIY. These activities bring us a feeling of being in the moment which is often absent from modern life.”

Majella O’Dea from Athenry agrees as she took up gardening recently and has found the whole experience to be both therapeutic and productive on so many levels.

“Gardening is totally absorbing, and I regularly lose track of time,” she says. “I love trying to grow different plants and currently have Kohlrabi and Saltwort Agretti in seed trays. I also experimented with companion plants which work together and, once the lockdown relaxed, visiting nieces and nephews also loved getting down and dirty while helping me.

“As the lockdown weeks went by, I spent more and more time in the garden as working from home freed up almost eight hours of commuting time a week. And now, since the restrictions have relaxed, I tip away most evenings with feeding, weeding, watering, and carrying out the odd ‘slug patrol’.

“I have really found it to be a great release. Working from home means I have a lot of WebEx meetings but when my work is done, I go out to the garden and take a complete break. Hacking at weeds can be very therapeutic and to be honest, only for my gardening I think I would have found lockdown even harder to get through.”

Mindfulness course

Fiona Walsh, a life coach who runs her own company, Imagine Coaching, also developed a relaxing habit during the past few months and says she cannot imagine life without it.

Life coach Fiona Walsh.
Life coach Fiona Walsh.

“In January, I attended a mindfulness course which introduced the concept of pausing for several short mindful moments during the day to calm the mind,” says the Cork woman.

“Then about two weeks into the lockdown, I realised that I had very high anxiety and had started having a glass of wine or two, most nights, which was not a good idea for a person who rarely drinks.

“Then one day while online, I noticed a post from my mindfulness teacher, Suzi Von Mensenkampff, advertising free, daily guided meditation Zoom calls at varying times during the day. And although I have to admit that I was somewhat apprehensive, I joined the first call, and did 20 minutes of straight meditation.

“After the first session, I felt so much lighter, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and my anxiety levels were reduced dramatically. Suzi has the most relaxing voice so I kept it up and attended meetings on most days as I had begun to feel much calmer – like I could take things in my stride and the daily Covid 19 updates no longer bothered me.”

Once the health and safety restrictions had eased, Fiona, who lives with her husband Tony and children Martha and Robyn, became more interested in meditating, and now says she cannot imagine her life without a daily session.

“The sessions continued after the restrictions were lifted, but with only one time slot per day and none at weekends,” she says. “I began to feel my anxiety increase as I worried about what I would do when the guided meditation ended. So I did an online course that taught how to meditate using primordial sound meditation which involves silently repeating a mantra.

“Now I meditate as soon as I wake every day. Being a life coach, I understand the importance of self-care and take time out every day to do what benefits me. As I believe that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t care for others.”

Busier again

Peadar Maxwell agrees and says novelty, creativity, and exercise are all great for both our mind and body.

“These three things can be considered psychological prophylactics as they can help counter stress and head off anxiety,” he says.

“They are in many ways as important as sleep and nutrition, so it is important that we try to hold on to our new exercises or hobbies. And as society opens up and we get busier again we should try find time to tend to a flowerbed, keep up those walks or try our hands at a new decorating project.

“I would advise people not to allow others’ frenetic activity to drag you away from the new activity you have enjoyed. Hobbies don’t just keep us busy or help us to burn calories; they can teach us patience, connect us with others or tap into our long-lost creative side. They can also give structure to our week, help us to meet new people and give us something to chat about and engage with.

“But, most importantly, they can have a genuinely positive effect on our wellbeing, our mental health and our sense of ourselves. So mind those great new habits created as a result of lockdown and don’t feel bad if you didn’t find one because it is never too late to begin a new hobby.”

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